I guess I should start at the beginning, but actually I’m gonna jump around all over the place because it makes more sense. Back in ’99 when my wife, Amber (or Ber, as I call her), and I first met, I used to joke that sleeping and eating were a waste of time and money…I have since retracted that statement.
In June of 2007 I had a problem…and knew it. I can use WebMD, I know how it works. I had narrowed it down to about 3 things, one being cancer. However, what I didn’t know was how to tell my friends, my family, and my wife. I agonized for months, I was scared, I was depressed, and I was stupid for waiting. Finally, in October I could no longer hide my symptoms from her and had no choice but to tell Ber. I went to my doctor who sent me to a CAT scan the following day. The two days waiting on the results were some of the longest of my life. One of the scariest things ever was hearing the doctor say ”yep, it’s cancer”. Although I was already 99% sure it was, those words just leveled me. I cried in the hospital parking lot for a good half hour. Soon after I had my first of 4 surgeries intermingled with 3 months of chemotherapy. Before cancer I had been 135 pounds for close to 20 years. During chemo I went down to 120lbs. Shortly after I finished the chemo treatments, I gained 45 pounds. So, how’d that happen?
I’m glad you asked…Cancer made me fat!
Chemo, for those of you that don’t know is a lot better than it used to be, but it’s still awful. Years after, I still have occasional bouts of what Ber calls ‘morning sickness.’ I wake up sick to my stomach because of the numerous poisons (that’s what chemo is) that can stay in your system for up to 7 years. Nausea, lack of appetite, and a loss of the taste buds are just the beginning - but this is a food blog so we’ll stick with that subject. I didn’t really experience a huge loss of appetite like some patients. My problem was even when I wanted to; I couldn’t eat anything that didn’t taste like metal. That’s attributed to one of the ‘cocktail’ drugs I was given; cisplatin. I remember calling Ber at work in tears because I was starving and trying to boil an egg to eat and they kept breaking. That’s when she told me you can’t throw an egg in water that’s already boiling (dozen eggs down the drain). So here I was, hungry, and can’t find anything to eat that doesn’t repulse me…that’s when I started experimenting with different foods and spices and eventually it hit me…I love cooking. The art of making something out of nothing is nothing short of spectacular.
Food has always been a huge part of my life I just never realized it until chemo. I remember Mom taking us to Sip’n’Dip in the mall and getting a chicken sandwich with a sweet BBQ sauce and lemonade that seemed to be the best thing ever. I remember her taking my sister and me to Mister Donuts after school and getting this yummy strawberry éclair (I haven’t tasted anything that good since it closed down). I remember Poncho’s taco sauce, Los Portales chips, and so many other restaurants from my childhood that I no longer have access to. I remember the smell of shelled peanuts roasted on a cast-iron stove that always greeted me at my grandfather’s farm in Mississippi or the countless holidays spent at my Uncle Charlie’s where there was always such a family feast. I remember taking the motorcycles with my racing buddies to eat burgers in Henderson, ribs in Dyersburg, or anything at Corky’s or Rendezvous in Memphis. I remember spending many a night with my friend and mentor Joe over steaks at Lone Star. For our first date, Ber and I talked over fondue at Melting Pot which has become our anniversary tradition. There are so many memories and friendships shared over food that I’m ashamed I took for granted.
By far my fondest memories though were supper with my family, always at the table, no TV or distractions (Rule #2), just quality time with people you love. Mom was by no means a classically trained chef; no lobster or steak au’ poivre. What Mom did, and did very well, was comfort food: Sheppard’s pie, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, the best stew you’ve ever had…just tons of delicious good stuff. I remember walking in the house every night and the smells and aromas of love filled my nose. That’s good food.
When Ber and I left Tennessee and moved to Las Vegas to start our new life, Mom handed me a box filled with all her recipes…they’re good and I use them frequently but somehow it’s just not the same. What I have realized is that it wasn’t necessarily the food, but rather the company it is shared with. It’s spending time with those that will always be there for you. Fantastic tasting food is great but it’s the people you share it with that matter. I enjoy spending 12 hours making smoked pulled pork on the grill, but it’s meaningless without friends and family.
So there’s the beginning. The rest is going to be about things I make, why I make it, and much more upbeat. I encourage you to take the ideas and play with them, make them your own, add smoked paprika, add saffron, or add escargot, whatever floats your boat…experiment.
But most importantly…don’t forget to share it with those you care about and make sure you have us over for dinner sometime.